STERLING, Colo. — About 10 miles outside of Sterling sits the Schott family farm. On a quiet country road, it offers a partially quiet oasis — with the gentle breeze punctuated by a cacophony of noises from the farm’s many animals.
Lori Schott has lost count of the number of living critters in her care — she believes it’s around twenty — but with her entire life spent in agriculture, she’s more than used to the sounds of farm life. For the last three years, it’s been the quiet that she has had to grow accustomed to.
“This was Anna’s wonderland,” Lori said, looking around at the rolling hills of their land. “It’s still hard for me to come down here because this was her world.”
The Schotts lost Annalee on November 15, 2020. She was just 18 years old when she died by suicide. Her mom, dad and brothers were left brokenhearted, and at a complete loss as to what led her to such a dark place.
But as Lori came to learn, Annalee left behind clues.
“Our daughter journaled, and I had the courage to go down and read her journals,” Lori said. “It said, "The only way to solve this is to kill myself." The other thing was, "How can anybody love me if I look at myself and I’m this ugly? I look at the profiles of other girls. I have no future." She wrote it down in her own handwriting.”
Lori knew she needed more answers. She hired a third-party company to help gain access to Annalee’s phone and TikTok account. Scrolling through the videos, Lori said she found video after video of young people sharing — and at times glamorizing — self-harm and self-hate. Many had tens of thousands of likes or more.
“At that moment is when I decided that pain has to be purpose, that I don’t want to see what happened to our daughter impact any other children," Lori said.
Stories like Annalee Schott’s have inspired a rare bipartisan mission in Washington, D.C. to hold social media companies accountable for the content their algorithms serve to our young people. The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) is before Congress and has cosponsors from both parties, including Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper.
The KOSA would make social media companies legally accountable if their algorithms boost content deemed harmful to minors, including content promoting self-harm and suicide.
While KOSA has bipartisan support, it certainly doesn’t have unanimous support. A similar bill was introduced and failed to pass in 2022, with many organizations raising concerns that it would lead to censorship online if passed.
At the center of the debate is the bill’s requirement to prevent the boosting of material deemed harmful to kids and the labeling of content as “harmful” could become weaponized for political purposes.
But in Lori Schott’s eyes, KOSA is a vital first step to making the internet safer for our kids and building her daughter’s legacy. Annalee left her journal entries, Lori said, so we all could “see the impact and to dig down deep to do something about it.”
“Our kids deserve better,” Lori said.
Denver7 360 | In-Depth News, Opinion
What are the legal responsibilities around social media, harmful algorithms?
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, help is available immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling or texting 988 at any time of day. Colorado Crisis Services can also connect individuals with local support and resources, by calling 1-844-493-TALK.
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